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Working In These Times

Saturday, Jan 14, 2012, 12:21 pm

Weekly Workers’ Round-Up: Auto Workers Protest, and Walker Less Than Welcome in Texas

BY Patrick Glennon

Working In These Times' New Year resolution was to restart its "weekly workers' round-up," which every Saturday aims to highlight some of the important labor struggles and stories we didn't have time to cover during the previous seven days. Please e-mail Working In These Times Editor Jeremy Gantz (jeremy@inthesetims) with any other stories you believe we ought to be covering.

Autoworkers Protest NAIAS

Auto workers, along with a contingent from Occupy Detroit, held an annual Autoworker Caravan rally last Sunday as journalists and wealthy industrialists enjoyed the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit. The protesters gathered outside of Cobo Hall—the convention hall where the NAIAS festivities took place (see video above).  

According to protesters, those gathered for the show brought international attention to the product while ignoring those who made them. Frank Hammer, an organizer for the union-friendly Autoworker Caravan, said:

There's a lot of talk about the recovery of the auto companies, but it's been at the expense of the autoworkers. It's not enough to look at the shiny new cars at the Auto Show — people need to know how those cars are made. Conditions in those auto plants aren't so rosy. In some plants, workers are getting only $9 per hour. That kind of poverty wage isn't going to help families. There's a lack of justice when multimillionaires are paying auto workers these kind of poverty wages. The workers should benefit from the recovery, too.

The NAIAS, which is scheduled to go through January 22, will likely attract more protests as the recovery of American automakers—mostly thanks to federal bailouts—are paraded as the triumph of auto execs.

Texas AFL-CIO to Scott Walker: Keep Union-Busting Out of Our State

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, organized labor’s arch-nemesis, received a not-too-warm welcome in Austin Thursday when he arrived on a fundraising trip.

Texas AFL-CIO President Becky Moeller had this to say about the collection of Occupiers and unionists who gathered in protest:

We believe in welcoming all comers to Texas, and we won’t break with that tradition today. But we must protest the anti-union zealotry, if not the presence, of Wisconsin Gov. Walker. Walker has played the partisan labor-bashing game since his election, doing the bidding of the Koch Brothers and other money player who want to tamp down worker rights, who can’t stand the idea that healthcare has become available to more of America and who would love to shave percentage points off democratic election participation.

Currently embattled by a recall campaign pushed by unions and Democrats, Gov. Walker was scheduled as the keynote speaker at the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s annual meeting for Texas legislators.

New York City Opera season in jeopardy as lockout begins

An unsettled disagreement between management and two unions representing performers has led to a lockout at the New York City Opera.

Slated to begin earlier this week, rehearsals for Verdi's La Traviata—the company’s scheduled season opener—were cancelled Monday, initiating what some union leaders say could be a long, potentially ruinious labor dispute.

The national executive director of the American Guild of Musical Artists, Alan Gordon, informed the New York Post that he was pessimistic about the season’s prospects. Referring to La Traviata, he said: “I don’t see how that performance can still happen.”

The lockout that commenced this week resulted from management’s announcement that orchestra and chorus members would no longer be salaried positions, rendering performers freelancers. According to the opera company's two unions, the move would lower pay for these two groups from around $40,000 to $4,000.

General Manager George Steel commented that it's time to start “paying people only for the work they do.”

By that rationae, the opera company's orchestra and chorus members have apparently been paid $36,000 for doing nothing in recent years.

South Korean Hyundai employee self-immolates to protest work conditions

Last Sunday, a unionized worker at Hyundai Motors set himself on fire to protest workplace conditions. 

The worker, whose surname is Shin, had filed a formal statement detailing machinery problems at the company’s Ulsan plant earlier this month. His complaint led to an internal audit, which provoked management to retaliate by issuing an investigation into Shin’s work performance. In the days leading up to his self-immolation, Shin’s journal entries detail a series of workplace suppressions that controlled his movement within the facility.

Shin remains in critical condition.

The protest triggered a strong reaction from the company’s union, leading its two primary labor leaders—Kim Hong-kyu and Moon Yong-moon—to call for a work stoppage at nine plants last Tuesday. Hyundai responded by filing a lawsuit against the two leaders for illegal obstruction of operations. The company also plans to file a civil suit against the union for damages.

Busy times for a union less than two months old.

Patrick Glennon is a writer and musician living in Chicago. He received his B.A. in History from Skidmore College and currently works as Communications Manager for the Michael Forti for Cook County Court campaign and as the web intern at In These Times.

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